As the high temperatures looks set to roll into September, Barry Warne, head of employment law at Keebles, advises how employers can prevent a backlash from workers.

Irrespective of whether employees undertake light or strenuous duties in factory environments, ensuring their wellbeing in the current sweltering climate is of paramount importance.


Although there is currently no statutory minimum or maximum workplace temperature, there is a recommended minimum. Guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) set a minimum of 16C – but it can be as low as 13C if the work is particularly strenuous.  


This is reinforced by The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers which recommends 13C for heavy work in factories and 16c for light work.  


Employers are responsible for providing a safe environment for their people at all times – and in all weathers. They are legally required to provide workers with a ‘reasonable’ temperature at work along with access to thermometers, enabling staff to check the air temperature in all areas of the factory.  


Being overheated can result in loss of concentration and increased tiredness – which can be detrimental for employees operating machinery. High temperatures raise the risk of accidents, cause discomfort for those whose duties require wearing protective clothing – and exacerbate medical conditions.      


Workplace regulations say businesses should make a ‘suitable assessment’ of the health and safety risks posed to staff in their working environment and take action “where necessary and where reasonably practicable”.

The ‘necessary’ action will vary according to the nature of products produced. It will include making decisions ranging from moving people away from direct sunlight, opening windows – or sending employees home if safe working cannot be arranged.


Employers’ responsibilities extend to ensuring access to suitable and sufficient washing facilities – clean hot and cold or warm water, soap and towels. The facilities should be in close to factory changing rooms and, depending upon the type of work, can include showers.


Providing breaks and drinking water which is easily accessible is also compulsory – as is proper ventilation. Airflow is an important aid to keeping cool and regulations say provision must be made for every enclosed workplace to be ventilated by a ‘sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air’ – although this does not extend to installing air conditioning. 


If employees’ duties include working in outdoor factory areas, businesses should take steps to prevent dehydration and sunstroke by making sure there is shade, that workers wear hats and that plenty of water is available. They can also provide sun protection and, if possible, look to reschedule duties so workers are not outside during the hottest part of the day.  


Although a standard temperature for when it becomes too hot to work has not been set, probably because workplaces such as foundries can get extremely hot, employers are expected to take the initiative to prevent negative repercussions from staff which can include leaving an unsafe place of work or even claiming constructive dismissal.


In a bid to address the lack of a statutory maximum temperature and ensure employers take effective measures regarding their staff in uncomfortably high temperatures; MPs Ian Mearns and Mark Durkan are seeking to introduce a maximum office temperature of 30C and 27C for more strenuous environments. The TUC has also been campaigning for the above temperature limits to be applied for many years. 


As Britain’s longest heatwave since 1976 looks set to continue, assessing and updating health and safety risks to ensure staff are not subject to unbearable factory conditions remains a key priority. I recall a case where an employer was successfully sued for failing to keep the premises warm enough. The same scenario could happen if the workplace were unbearably hot.


If in doubt, take expert advice to avoid a negative backlash. Offering cold drinks, ice lollies and wet towels is not among the legal requirements – but will help keep workers cool, focused and hydrated.